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The House Surgeon
by [?]

On an evening after Easter Day, I sat at a table in a homeward bound steamer’s smoking-room, where half a dozen of us told ghost stories. As our party broke up a man, playing Patience in the next alcove, said to me: “I didn’t quite catch the end of that last story about the Curse on the family’s first-born.”

“It turned out to be drains,” I explained. “As soon as new ones were put into the house the Curse was lifted, I believe. I never knew the people myself.”

“Ah! I’ve had my drains up twice; I’m on gravel too.”

“You don’t mean to say you’ve a ghost in your house? Why didn’t you join our party?”

“Any more orders, gentlemen, before the bar closes?” the steward interrupted.

“Sit down again, and have one with me,” said the Patience player. “No, it isn’t a ghost. Our trouble is more depression than anything else.”

“How interesting? Then it’s nothing any one can see?”

“It’s–it’s nothing worse than a little depression. And the odd part is that there hasn’t been a death in the house since it was built–in 1863. The lawyer said so. That decided me–my good lady, rather and he made me pay an extra thousand for it.”

“How curious. Unusual, too!” I said.

“Yes; ain’t it? It was built for three sisters–Moultrie was the name–three old maids. They all lived together; the eldest owned it. I bought it from her lawyer a few years ago, and if I’ve spent a pound on the place first and last, I must have spent five thousand. Electric light, new servants’ wing, garden–all that sort of thing. A man and his family ought to be happy after so much expense, ain’t it?” He looked at me through the bottom of his glass.

“Does it affect your family much?”

“My good lady–she’s a Greek, by the way–and myself are middle-aged. We can bear up against depression; but it’s hard on my little girl. I say little; but she’s twenty. We send her visiting to escape it. She almost lived at hotels and hydros, last year, but that isn’t pleasant for her. She used to be a canary–a perfect canary–always singing. You ought to hear her. She doesn’t sing now. That sort of thing’s unwholesome for the young, ain’t it?”

“Can’t you get rid of the place?” I suggested.

“Not except at a sacrifice, and we are fond of it. Just suits us three. We’d love it if we were allowed.”

“What do you mean by not being allowed?”

“I mean because of the depression. It spoils everything.”

“What’s it like exactly?”

“I couldn’t very well explain. It must be seen to be appreciated, as the auctioneers say. Now, I was much impressed by the story you were telling just now.”

“It wasn’t true,” I said.

“My tale is true. If you would do me the pleasure to come down and spend a night at my little place, you’d learn more than you would if I talked till morning. Very likely ‘twouldn’t touch your good self at all. You might be–immune, ain’t it? On the other hand, if this influenza,–influence does happen to affect you, why, I think it will be an experience.”

While he talked he gave me his card, and I read his name was L. Maxwell M’Leod, Esq., of Holmescroft. A City address was tucked away in a corner.

“My business,” he added, “used to be furs. If you are interested in furs–I’ve given thirty years of my life to ’em.”

“You’re very kind,” I murmured.

“Far from it, I assure you. I can meet you next Saturday afternoon anywhere in London you choose to name, and I’ll be only too happy to motor you down. It ought to be a delightful run at this time of year the rhododendrons will be out. I mean it. You don’t know how truly I mean it. Very probably–it won’t affect you at all. And–I think I may say I have the finest collection of narwhal tusks in the world. All the best skins and horns have to go through London, and L. Maxwell M’Leod, he knows where they come from, and where they go to. That’s his business.”